Breaking Down an Old Occult Method

The Golden Dawn tarot spread can be a little tough for tarot noobs to get the hang of. That’s because it was meant to be read exclusively by members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult lodge that thrived over a century ago. Using this spread, the reader is intended to interpret the cards based on whether they are well-dignified or ill-dignified. They did not use reversals to determine this, so every card faced upright so that you can easily see the image. The spread itself is not terribly difficult; it is simply a matter of being acquainted with the old-fashioned methods that it employs. The Book of Thoth by Aleister Crowley was made to be used with this spread.


Since the Golden Dawn spread does not use reversals, the first thing you need to know about is elemental dignities. Determining this is actually not very difficult, except where you may have trouble interpreting some majors. If you do have trouble interpreting a trump card or Major Arcana, the best thing to do is give it the benefit of the doubt and interpret the card as well-dignified.

With the minors, dignities are as plain as black and white. When interpreting each card in the spread, notice the adjacent cards. When an adjacent card is of the same suit or element, this charges the card, making it more powerful. When an adjacent card is of the opposite suit or element, this devalues the card, making it take on the “negative” side of its character. Cards that are not of direct opposite energy are simply neutral. Knowing how to interpret dignities is the key to understanding this spread.

The Golden Dawn Method

Querent – The Central Trinity

The first thing to interpret is the Significator, or Querent. These are the cards in the middle, 2-1-3. The core of this trinity is card #1, which represents you and the issue in general. In this spread, the central card of each trinity has the potential to be effected twice, by the cards on either side. This is the only place that it gets complicated if you don’t have experience with this sort of method.

First you interpret the first card based on the way the dignity turns out after weighing each of the cards around it. Then you add the influence of cards 2 and 3 by determining their dignities the same way, except they only have a single neighbor card (#1) to consider in the equation. When you determine the personality of each of these cards, you take them into consideration as the energies surrounding the core of the matter, creating the heart of the reading.

Psychological Basis

The beauty of this spread is that you can move around freely, interpreting it in a non-linear fashion. For this example, we will interpret the psychological basis of the matter. Think of it like the brain if the first trinity was the heart.

With these three, as with the other lower trinity, they can be interpreted the same way as the first trinity. You start with the central card, in this case #10, and determine its dignity before doing the surrounding cards individually so that you can understand how they function as a group of three. With this trinity you can understand the psychology behind the issue that you are facing.

Possible Outcomes – The Top 2 Trinities

Before determining the karma behind the issue, it makes sense to read the top two trinities so that we can see how the issue plays out. In the top two groupings we see two possible chronological series of events, so these sets are not read the same way as the other three below. Instead they are simply read in chronological order, starting with sequence 4-8-12. This chronological sequence shows they way things would naturally play out if circumstances were not interfered with. Of course, interpreting each card works the same with the dignities here, as before.

The second sequence, 13-9-5 is interpreted after the first set. The important thing about this trinity is that it hinges on how it matches up with the previous sequence of cards, 4-8-12. If the two sequences look like two different things to you, then you make that determination and consider these three cards and alternate outcome. In this case, the reading is saying that you have a choice and if you change things you can alter your fate and put it on this course instead of the first, the natural course.

If, however, the sequence of cards seems very similar to the first set, the reading is interpreted differently. In this case you must consider these three cards, 13-9-5 to be an extension of the sequence of events that begins with the first three, 4-8-12. Keep in mind the chronological order in this event goes like this: 4-8-12-13-9-5. In this event the querent is not given a choice.

Karma – Saving the Best for Last

I like to determine the karma behind the story after I read the storyline, so that puts this group last on the list of trinities to read. This grouping is read in the same way as the querent and psychology trinities, with the two outer cards acting as satellites of the central card, in this case #11. Reading the karma trinity tells you about the mood behind the reading and why things are the way they are.

The mystical factor of karma shows you a lot about your attitude, which is never too late to change. Remember, your attitude plays a major role in what kind of energy you attract.

Once you have determined Karma, you are essentially finished with the reading. Of course, you may want to further interpret the interactions between the trinities themselves as well as the individual cards, as each set of three is in effect its own organism within the reading. Furthermore, you may wish to total the numerology of the reading, if you do that or any other rituals that you would ordinarily observe.

This is one of the most complicated spreads that there is, so if you have followed along and are able to do a Golden Dawn tarot reading for yourself without too much trouble, congratulations!

“It depends upon what the meaning of the word IS is.”